EarthTalk: Which woods are OK to purchase,
and which are not, in the interest of preserving forests
and not harming those who depend upon them?
-- Jon Steiner, Boise, ID
you’re shopping for building materials, wooden
furniture or other items, the simplest way to tell
if the wood you are considering buying was harvested
from sustainable sources is to look for the FSC (Forest
Stewardship Council) label.
© Giles Douglas, courtesy Flickr
continues to be one of the world’s biggest environmental
problems, especially in fast developing regions like South
America, Southeast Asia and Africa. Cutting down large numbers
of trees erodes land and silts waterways, displaces native
people and wildlife, and releases tons of carbon dioxide
(which is stored in living wood fiber) into the atmosphere,
contributing to global warming.
course, wood products are essential to modern life. Without
wood we wouldn’t have the buildings, furniture, paper
and other essentials we make use of every day. That’s
why protecting sources of wood has become a leading concern
among not just environmentalists but everyone else as well.
response to the problems wrought by increasing deforestation,
some forward-thinking wood products professionals teamed
up with environmentalists, native people’s advocates,
community forestry groups and responsible corporations to
form the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 1993.
Previous attempts to stem the tide of unchecked logging—including
international negotiations and boycotts—were having
little effect, so FSC vowed to use the power of market forces
to create change for the better.
promotes responsible management of forests by certifying
forestry operations around the globe and promoting its certification
system at every step of the wood products distribution chain.
Whether you’re shopping for wooden furniture, building
materials or other items, one easy way to tell if the wood
you are considering buying was harvested from sustainable
sources is to look for the FSC label on it or its packaging.
If it is, you can trust that such products were harvested
sustainably and are not contributing to deforestation-related
woes. If you don’t see the FSC logo, you should inquire
as to where the wood came from and whether or not it was
nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) warns
consumers to avoid purchasing some tropical hardwoods unless
they can be assured that it came from sustainable forestry
operations. Many of these woods—including Big Leaf
Mahogany, Spanish Cedar, Caribbean Pine, Ipe, Rosewood,
Teak, Ramin, Merbau, African Mahogany, and Okoume—are
difficult to manage sustainably as they typically grow in
low densities in natural forests and regenerate poorly after
logging. Some woods and wood products may contain FSC-certified
wood without bearing the logo, while other woods may be
OK without going through the FSC certification process.
If you don’t see an FSC logo you should ask. If the
store salesperson can’t provide information, then
you can’t be sure.
better than purchasing sustainably harvested new wood is
to seek out reclaimed or salvaged wood, as it precludes
the need for logging altogether. An added benefit of using
reclaimed or salvaged wood—look for it at used building
supply stores and even at construction sites where older
materials are being tossed—is that it provides incentives
for municipal recycling programs. NRDC suggests that if
you can’t source used wood, consider recycled plastic
lumber or composites if they are applicable for your project.
Stewardship Council (FSC); NRDC.
EarthTalk: There have been many contradictory
reports (“it was good; it was bad”) about what
came out of “COP 15,” the December 2009 international
Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen. Can you set
the record straight?
-- Jay Killian, Brookline, MA
were high that international negotiators in Copenhagen
last December would hammer out a strong agreement
to once and for all take the climate beast by the
horns and begin to reign in carbon emissions worldwide.
But a new binding formal agreement was not to be.
© Getty Images
were high that international negotiators in Copenhagen last
December at the 15th Annual Conference of Parties (COP15)
to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC) would be able to hammer out a strong agreement
to once and for all take the climate beast by the horns
and begin to reign in carbon emissions worldwide. But a
new binding formal agreement was not to be, mostly because
of conflicting priorities among participating countries.
Even a weaker
11th hour voluntary “framework” put forth by
the U.S., China, India, Brazil and South Africa failed to
win consensus support among the 119 attending heads of state.
However, the resulting Copenhagen Accord—which aims
to keep global temperatures from reaching any more than
2¾C (3.6¾F) above pre-industrial times—did leave the
door open for a stronger agreement later, with developing
countries pledging a total of $30 billion in the short term
and $100 billion a year by 2020, mostly to help less developed
nations adopt policies and technologies to keep carbon footprints
small moving forward.
cannot be everything that everyone hoped for, but it is
an essential beginning,” reports UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon. “The bad news is that the Accord is not
legally binding and provides no plan of how to limit emissions,”
says climatologist Mark Maslin of the University College
of London’s (UCL) Environment Institute, pointing
out that the original text leading up to the meeting called
for a global cut in emissions of 50 percent by 2050, including
an 80 percent cut by all developed countries.
The lack of detail
in the resulting Accord regarding specific emissions reductions
targets means cooperation is completely voluntary, which
is not what environmentalists want to hear. “The Accord
should be seen as simply a face-saving agreement,”
comments Maslin. “The politics are clear: Some developed
and the richer developing countries resisted the call for
legal limits to emissions.”
The failure of
COP15 to generate a binding agreement means that international
policymaking will likely take a back seat in the effort
to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and profligate carbon
emissions. Chris Flavin of the U.S.-based Worldwatch Institute
believes that future progress on climate “will be
driven more by domestic economics and politics rather than
the international negotiating process.”
Flavin goes on
to say that climate change mitigation will depend on the
ability of individual nations “to persuade domestic
constituents that they will benefit economically as well
as environmentally from an energy transition.” He
adds that future UN climate talks should focus not on overarching
agreements but on practical goals like providing funding
for poor countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change,
accelerating international cooperation on technology, and
coordinating a global effort to protect the world’s
remaining forests given their capacity to store large amounts
of carbon. “Efforts over the next few years will determine
whether Copenhagen was a fatal setback for efforts to combat
climate change, or just a painful mid-course correction,”